Interesting read - On Audiophiles


Well-Known Member
Feb 5, 2008
Found this an interesting read, remarkably well written and interspersed with humor

source: Welcome to Chesky Records: The Premiere Audiophile Record Label
Steve Guttenberg
The music comes first. The music comes first. The music comes first. Of course it does. Without it , our precious hardware would be literally useless. But why is it that so many audiophiles today deny their passion for the equipment? The hardware is the messenger, the conduit, if you will, to the music. The best stuff simply gets out of the way, and lets the music speak for itself. It seems that too many of the audiophiles I talk to these days are in heavy denial; they're in a "don't ask, don't tell" mode.
Go ahead, step right up to a fellow 'phile and ask this simple question: "Are you an audiophile?". Quick--watch their facial muscles tense up--nine times out of ten they'll respond with something like: "No, I love music, not equipment". Sure. This guy (99.999% of audiophiles are men) owns a very good system that's taken years to put together; obscene amounts of cash to maintain; and the truth is, it's his mistress. That's why he feels this guilt; it's a totally self-indulgent pursuit. And yes, there's frequently an obsessive "component" in our quest for ever more faithful fidelity, but it's all for the love of music. Isn't it? There, I've said it, now it's out in the open. But, I wonder, do the folks who relish a 1982 Petrus over dinner deny their fondness for good wine? Is there anyone out there buying a Porsche because they believe it's just good solid transportation? Do Rolex owners refute their love of craftsmanship and pride of ownership to say "Hey, it keeps good time." Right, just like my $14 Casio. We audiophiles are a strange lot--why do we deny our passion? Is the equipment merely a means to an end? I don't think so.

How Audiophiles Are Born
My first record, a Mickey Katz 78, was the spark that ignited my passion for music at age 3; and it, (the music, not Mickey Katz) has become an essential element of my life. By the late 70s, I was a novice audiophile; the High End scene was just starting to blossom. In those fanciful times, audiophiles wore the moniker proudly.

Every audiophile has fond memories of his first good system. We may recall the tremendous rush of hearing familiar music with improved fidelity: "Wow! I can't believe the 'Stones could sound this real!" Ahhhh!--those were the days of pure, innocent fun. Our interest in the music was strengthened by these experiences, as the music and sound reinforced each other's power over us we became audiophiles. The fledgling audiophile starts reading the magazines, meets other audiophiles, and soon becomes aware of the many factions within the audiophile world. It's akin to choosing a religion. We are a cantankerous lot: objectivists vs. subjectivists, transistor vs. tube camps, push-pull vs. single ended, digaphiles vs. analogists, those who prefer planar speakers vs. the dynamic speaker crowd, and lately, the Home Theater vs. the 2-channel Audio Only contingent. The barbs are hurled with depressing regularity; each group professes righteous indignation-- the conflicts in the former Yugoslavia seem simple by comparison. The fact is, the reason for all of this diversity is...taste. One man's "detail" is another man's "glare"--unanimity is the rarest quality of all in our community.

There is no single sound system that could possibly satisfy all of us. The 1995 Audio Annual Directory lists 6000+ components; each manufacturer proclaims his products to be "the best", or "the best for the money--what's an audiophile to do? With so many choices it's easy to get bogged down in the audio puzzle. I believe that we are all searching for a balance that will probably be unique to our situation. Assembling the right components to achieve this balance involves an intricate trial & error process. The learning curve is usually a long (and expensive) one as we discover our own sonic likes and dislikes that will eventually allow us to listen in a relaxed state. This "journey" may prove painful for some-- the audiophile who is perpetually dissatisfied, who is constantly buying and selling components, has placed himself in an audio hell. The only solution to this dilemma is to STOP, reassess goals, and develop a new plan. A good first step is to reset one's internal reference with the only true "absolute sound": live unamplified music. After that, it's simply(?) a matter of deciding which qualities you wish to "take home". Dynamics, bass power and extension,'ll give up some midrange purity, OK? If you want the right answers, you need to ask the right questions. The best systems represent a series of intelligent compromises. Many mature audiophiles are still grappling with these conflicts, unsure of their own direction. It's this desire for perfection which results in frustration that fuels the denial. We get hung up on the different vs. better questions, but in the long run the truest test of quality is simple: are you enjoying listening to the music? If you can answer in the affirmative, you're on the right track. If not, well, there's still hope for you.

Far too many of our brethren have succumbed to the disease, audiophilia nervosa, which manifests itself as a preoccupation with sound quality; the music has become secondary, no longer the focus of your listening sessions. I've suffered from this affliction many times; I'm well acquainted with its destructive pathology: "is the bass tight enough?"; "there's no detail in the top octave"; "everything's too bright"; "I should clean all of the connectors"; or, of course, "to fix this problem, I need a new ________". These bouts of "audio depression" have, at times, progressed to the "burn out stage": "I should just chuck the whole shebang and buy a mini system. Then I could listen to music in peace". The purging never took place; good sense prevailed, my system remained intact. I suppose my ears have developed to the point that there's no turning back. Yet there seems to be a significant amount of soul searching going on; it's the audiophile equivalent of "Why are we here?": "Why are we audiophiles?".

Do these audiophiles harbor this deeply seated primal fear: Julian Hirsch (Stereo Review) is right. All amplifiers do sound the same; cables don't make any difference; bits is bits, just buy the CD player with the features you need; the entire High End Audio scene is one gigantic sham. I woke up screaming, "The Horror, he's right, billions of dollars down the drain, oh no!". Au contraire, my belief in the glories of High End are stronger than ever. No, I think it's Julian whose having fits of doubt nowadays, maybe he's even got a cute little 300B amp stashed away for some clandestine listening...

Audiophiles & their Families--Make Room for Daddy!
Single audiophiles have it easy. If they choose to have speaker cables as thick as firehose strewn across their listening room, so be it! Anything goes. Audiophiles with families face significantly tougher sledding in how we integrate our audio fanaticism within the household environment. The now-infamous WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) is no joke; convincing your better half that putting speakers the size of refrigerators in her living room is a prime example of WAF at the extreme. You win some...Some audiophiles attempt to involve their spouses: "Honey, listen to how much better this new $2K DAC resolves Linda Ronstadt's voice!"; she may nod in faint approval, or run out of the room sobbing. Our fantasy: "Oh darling, you're right, this new converter has a remarkably pure and natural midrange"; keep dreaming! Reality check: big audio purchases frequently require a "quid pro quo"--you buy a new amp, she gets a new computer. Everyone works out their own schemes; some try the surreptitious route. Sneaking in a new component when she's not at home ("Gladys will never notice this new power line conditioner"), only to be found out when she finds the box in the garbage! Gotcha! I've heard of one audiophile who was a faithful Audio Research owner, and not just because he loved the sound. Since Audio Research's cosmetics never change, his system upgrades were completely invisible to his wife. Clever guy! I know that at least half of you believe that your wives wouldn't notice the difference between an Adcom and a Krell: well, certainly not by their sound! Yes, daddy's toys are big, expensive "things" that are at best tolerated; at worst, well, it can get ugly. Could it be that they're jealous? Maybe, but I think it's more the solitary aspects of the pursuit that excludes them is the more likely culprit. Maybe those Home Theater guys are onto something after all.

The Long and Winding Road
David Hafler, Mark Levinson, Dan Dagostino (Krell), Hiroyasi Kondo (Audio Note), Peter Snell, Dennis Had (Cary Audio), Paul Klipsh, Saul Marantz, Messrs. Conrad & Johnson, et. al.; each of these titans began their journey as an audiophile. It was their passion for better sound that propelled them to become entrepreneurs. Money was never the prime motivator for these men, no, it was their total obsession to push the limits of what was possible. Every audiophile is the designer of his own system; from the various bits and pieces, step by step, each of us builds our own masterpiece. The resulting system represents the owner's aspirations and dreams. A better Hi-Fi is the conduit to a greater understanding of music, that's why it's worth it.

Now that we've identified the audiophiles, let's move on to the final question--who should not become an audiophile? That's easy. People who don't care about music; or those whose interest doesn't extend beyond music as background sound; you know, the sonic wallpaper effect. I've just described the average American. Music, and certainly sound, have little meaning for them; that's OK. Odd thing is, some of these folks buy decent equipment for reasons unrelated to sound quality: to impress friends (or potential girlfriends); they like the way it looks; or they appreciate the craftsmanship or technology. The love of music just isn't part of their personal agenda. But, but, lightning can strike anywhere, some of these folks go on to discover a passion for music that was hidden within them. On a beautiful July morning they find themselves enthralled by a Brahms String Quartet. "Gee, I've never just sat and listened before!" We got another one!
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